Monday, March 28, 2011

Do children have a better view of reality than adults?

Sometimes it seems like your worldview comes down to a simple attitude. Here is Richard Dawkins, being interviewed by Germany's Der Spiegel online about how viewing the world as poetic and beautiful is perfectly is perfectly consistent with its being explicable solely in scientific terms:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What emphasis did you have in mind for the book [The Greatest Show on Earth]?

Dawkins: A positive, almost romantic view of life as something that is beautiful and explicable and beautiful because it is explicable. But there is the negative side, as well. It is an attempt to disabuse people, especially in America, but also in other parts of the world, who have become influenced by fundamentalist religion into thinking that life can be and should be explained as all designed. I regard that as a lazy and unhelpful explanation as well as an untrue one.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You never experienced a religious phase in your life?

Dawkins: Of course. I was a child, wasn't I?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You think religion is something we should move beyond as we enter adulthood?

Dawkins: You know what St. Paul said: When I was I child, I spoke as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Contrast Dawkin's emphasis on giving up the child's view of the world, which involves attributing personality and design to it, with Chesterton, who is viewing the same world, but who believes there must be more than the bland physical mechanism of the world in order for it to be poetic and beautiful, and that the physically explicable nature of the world does not imply it is merely mechanism--and that there is nothing wrong in viewing the world like as a child:

But when I came to ask them I found they had really no proof of this unavoidable repetition in things except the fact that the things were repeated. Now, the mere repetition made the things to me rather more weird than more rational. It was as if, having seen a curiously shaped nose in the street and dismissed it as an accident, I had then seen six other noses of the same astonishing shape. I should have fancied for a moment that it must be some local secret society. So one elephant having a trunk was odd; but all elephants having trunks looked like a plot. I speak here only of an emotion, and of an emotion at once stubborn and subtle. But the repetition in Nature seemed sometimes to be an excited repetition, like that of an angry schoolmaster saying the same thing over and over again. The grass seemed signalling to me with all its fingers at once; the crowded stars seemed bent upon being understood. The sun would make me see him if he rose a thousand times. The recurrences of the universe rose to the maddening rhythm of an incantation, and I began to see an idea.

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg. If the human being conceives and brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat, or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again before the curtain. Repetition may go on for millions of years, by mere choice, and at any instant it may stop. Man may stand on the earth generation after generation, and yet each birth be his positively last appearance.

This was my first conviction; made by the shock of my childish emotions meeting the modern creed in mid-career. I had always vaguely felt facts to be miracles in the sense that they are wonderful: now I began to think them miracles in the stricter sense that they were wilful.
For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.

13 comments:

KyCobb said...

Bill O'Reilly has recently been mocked for saying the same thing, only not nearly as well. I fail, however, to see why I can't appreciate the beauty of a sunset or sunrise without anthropomorphizing nature.

Singring said...

'there must be more than the bland physical mechanism'

This is a classic case of projection. You attack Dawkins and 'evolutionists' in general for their 'attitute', yet then go on to immediately whine, opine and bemoan that 'there must be more' than 'bland' physical mechanism.

Why 'must' there be more? Because, like a child, you just can't live with the fact that there isn't? Are you not capable of accepting reality without the comforting cuddly blanket of imagining design and your special place in it?

Chestertons piece of course, is of such embarassing credulity, intellectual cowardice and sophistry that I can hardly stomach reading it. A choice example:

'All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork.I speak here only of an emotion, and of an emotion at once stubborn and subtle.'

So Chesterton claims materialism is a 'false assumption' and the evidence he gives is that he just can't imagine it could be true. It just doesn't look that way to him, with 'all elephants having a trunk' seeming like a 'plot'.

He even admits that his argument rests squarely on an appeal to emotion - something you usually don't even want to know about, Martin. What happened? Chesterton's emotions are convincing and persuasive to you, but mine aren't? I feel hurt ;-D.

The mind boggles at this kind of 'reasoning'.

If you want to think like a child and imagine things(as you seem to admit to here), go right ahead - but please spare us future lectures on how you are being rational and scientists are not.

KyCobb said...

There is a funny cartoon which addresses this issue here:

http://m.xkcd.com/877/

Martin Cothran said...

KyCobb,

Who is talking about "anthropomorphizing nature"?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Where did I attack Dawkins for his attitude?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Why is it more rational to assume that the world is devoid of design than to assume it is?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

He even admits that his argument rests squarely on an appeal to emotion

I would think someone who is such a champion of critical thinking would do a better job making distinctions. There is a difference between an intuition and an emotion. Chesterton is employing the former, not the latter.

Singring said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KyCobb said...

Martin,

"Who is talking about 'anthropomorphizing nature'?"

Chesterton is:

"The grass seemed signalling to me with all its fingers at once; the crowded stars seemed bent upon being understood. The sun would make me see him if he rose a thousand times. The recurrences of the universe rose to the maddening rhythm of an incantation, . . . It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance."

KyCobb said...

And once more, Chesterton:

"it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life."

Singring said...

I have deleted and reworded my previous post because it was very badly worded in parts. This is more accurate:

'Where did I attack Dawkins for his attitude?'

So you think he has an excellent attitude about the natural world? Great! But then this post is rather pointless, no?

'Why is it more rational to assume that the world is devoid of design than to assume it is?'

Let A be the proposition that natural things can be explained by appealing to natural processes.

Let B be be the proposition that (at least some) natural things can be explained only with design.

It is clear that I adhere to proposition A, while you and Mr. Chesterton seem to adhere to proposition A+B or maybe even exclusively to B.

(For the sake of brevity I assume that you do not adhere to a B only, which states that everything that ever happens is due to design, which would destroy not only free will, but also would be utterly untestable).

We have evidence that explains how natural diversity arose by natural means alone - so we have a credible foundation for A. All of us - creationists and 'evolutionists' agree that there are some natural forces and principles at work. Where we separate is the additional claims creationists make (proposition B), some of which are patently absurd, some of which are unverifiable, some of which have little or no evidentiary support.

I submit that it is irrational to claim that absurd propositions or such propositions that are not testable or verified by evidence are true. I also submit that it is irrational to accept hypotheses as true which are not required to explain the phenomoena at hand (Occam's razor).

Maybe you feel otherwise. Based on your enthusiasm to view the world with the intellect of a child that sees God commanding the sun to rise every day suggests this, unfortunately.

'There is a difference between an intuition and an emotion. Chesterton is employing the former, not the latter.'

Well, let's see what he says:

'I speak here only of an emotion, and of an emotion at once stubborn and subtle.'

'This was my first conviction; made by the shock of my childish emotions meeting the modern creed in mid-career.'

I count three instances of 'emotion' and none of 'intuition' in Chesterton's little nursery rhyme. So I have to assume he was using code language? The kind where emotion actualkly means intuition and that only philosophers understand?

Thomas said...

It's ironic that those who object to the anthropomorphizing of nature want to consider nature as nothing more than the picture generated by a particular human activity (the sciences).

Knossos said...

The nature of explanation and its uses for "us" (ie we humans who want to describe and understand the world) does not , in my view lead to a need to argue specifically that a more science oriented view is any more useful than one informed by other needs and purposes. I love Keats poetry , for instance it says much about the world! but I will also go to peer reviewed science if I hope to understand the latest on climate change issues. Both views (as part of humans dialogue about the world) inform us. Let Paul Feyerabends approach help us to be skeptical about any pardigms within which all usefull knoweldge dweleth..!